Dalai Lama’s Birthday
The press of the crowd was great today to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Being crowd shy I was hoping to go in late just in time. In terms of timing I was about 3 minutes late to see the Dalai Lama and so as I was walking in I was walking upstream in a human river. Though my luck was bad for seeing the Dalai Lama, it was good for seeing an old friend, Kunchok Rapten—he was my star student when I was teaching English in at LHA in 2009. So we heard a little music, saw a little dancing, got some blessed food and then headed to Chonnor house—the Dharamsala equivalent of heaven– for tea. We sat in a nice tea garden and talked. Kunchok’s memory and English are so good that I got what I would not have gotten if I had actually seen the Dalai Lama—an English translation of his talk.
I will share it with you. For convenience sake I will put it in first person as the Dalai Lama’s words.
I am happy to have your kindness today extended to me to celebrate my birthday, but as a Buddhist I want to say that birthdays are not very important—or rather, this day is not all that unique. Each day that I wake up, I am a new being. We are all born each new day. It is important to meet the day thinking, ‘I have a new start.’ I must use this day very wisely. I must ask, ‘what good I can do on this day?’ It is so important to use this new life well.
It was a little longer than this, and perhaps something is missing between the actual words and Kunchok’s memory and the translation—but I feel lucky to have heard this message and need to think about what it means for me today.
I close with a final cultural note—most Tibetans do not know their birthday or do not celebrate them. Buddha’s birthday and the Dalai Lama’s are celebrated as special holidays. “Common” people will generally not know their birthday; they will only know their birth year. I have heard one Buddhist reason for this practice given: that the focus on the ego that comes along with having “my birthday” is best avoided. I think that the Dalai Lama gave his subjects a very special gift—he told them that today is their birthday. A people who had none, now have one every day. Happy Birthday Dalai Lama, and, in accordance with his teaching and his present to us, happy birthday to us all.